Gardening education program goes indoors at Robinson Gardens Apartments
With the community garden thriving outside the window, children at Robinson Gardens Apartments got a crash course on the benefits of peaches.
The program, delivered via Zoom in the community room at the Springfield Housing Authority development off Berkshire Avenue and Bay Street, is part of an ongoing collaboration with the University of Massachusetts Extension Service.
Children in attendance learned about the origins and lifespan of a peach tree, the healthy goodness of its skin and juicy fruit, how to tell a peach from an apple or a nectarine, and even were treated to a reading of the book ‘Coyote Plants a Peach Tree’ by Mary L. Brown.
SHA Executive Director Denise Jordan said having this ongoing education program continue during the COVID-19 pandemic is a benefit for families at Robinson Gardens.
“We are so happy to have this program running online this summer, while we are social distancing and cannot host large gatherings,” Jordan said. “Our children continue to learn about the benefits of fruits and vegetables as they grow a garden in their own back yard.”
The community garden at Robinson Gardens is in its fifth year, filling a patch of land inside the development with goodies including tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, peppers, snow peas, eggplant, corn, Calabaza, collard greens, strawberries and more.
The garden is an effort by a host of people and groups, including the residents themselves, SHA’s Talk/Read/Succeed! program, the UMass Extension Service Nutrition Education Program and Gardening the Community. This year’s garden was done with social distancing, making the work of it more challenging but every bit as rewarding.
T/R/S! Outreach Coordinator Lynne Cimino said the collaborative garden has proven a great source of fresh nutritious food, fresh air and hard work, education, and neighborhood unity.
“We want these youth to feel empowered in their ability to grow healthy and nutritious food right in their own backyard,” Cimino said. “We hope that these lessons will inspire youth to participate in and be champions for community gardening, local food systems, and increased access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables.”
The recent youth program, called ‘Peaches and Nectarines,’ featured Saima Dizdarevic, nutrition educator from the UMass program, live on a screen sharing information about the reddish/yellowish/orangy fruit.
Among the information Dizdarevic shared:
- Peaches originally come from China.
- Along with other orange fruits and vegetables, they are an important source of Vitamin A, which helps keep night vision strong.
- Like other sour-tasting or tart foods, peaches are also a good source of Vitamin C, which helps heal bruises and maintain healthy gums and teeth, along with immunities.
- Bees and beetles are important in pollinating peach trees so that they will bear fruit.
- Peach trees produce fruit after three years of growth, going dormant in winter.
- The trees live for about 20 years.
Dizdarevic also shared a few peach recipes, including peach salsa, peach crisp, grilled peaches and a no-bake peach crisp. As she did this, Cimino passed a peach to each person in the room, while Dizdarevic called upon them to use their senses of touch, smell, sight and taste to describe the fruit before they delved in to experience the full goodness.
Dizdarevic said she aimed to help children get a better understanding of this specific fruit, absorbing knowledge that they can use to help maintain healthy diets.
“Our goal is to reach the participants at Robinson Gardens and provide education on fruits and vegetables from the garden,” she noted. “We want to energize students and show them how they can include fresh foods in their daily diets.”
Her lesson made its mark.
Participants like Hancel Valentin, 11, gave it a good grade.
“It was pretty good,” he said. “It made me want some peach pie.”
It turned out Hancel and his younger brother Alberto, who is 8, had just gone peach and apple picking the prior weekend, so they knew a thing or two about the fruits discussed.
“We learned a lot more stuff,” said Alberto. “We learned about peaches grow and how good they are for us.”
Their six-year-old neighbor Jacob Mayo-Carabello added, “Peaches are kind of fuzzy, and kind of delicious.”
Ivette Hernandez, mother of the Valentin brothers, said the program was a good one, especially during these times of learning remotely and keeping a distance from others.
“This is something constructive they can do, where they’re learning something they can use,” Hernandez said.
“I learned a few things too,” she added with a smile.
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